Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Revis contract guarantees his return; Patriots have rare opportunity to pay it forward

The name Darrelle Revis strikes fear in quarterbacks, receivers and defensive coordinators alike, but also causes much anxiety and sleepless nights for the numbers geeks in the New England Patriots' front office as they ponder how to try and keep him in Foxborough past this season.

Why, with the big money contracts having been signed by cornerbacks this offseason, it is natural to ponder how the substantial numbers involved might impact the contract situation between the Patriots' and their new toy's future with the team beyond 2014 - but in an era where back loading contracts to fit big name players under a team's salary cap is commonplace, the Patriots' opportunity here is to pay it forward.

The team put themselves behind the eight-ball to get the five-time Pro Bowl selection to sign a free agent contract this past spring, and the language in the contract virtually guaranteed that the three-time All Pro wouldn't just be a one-and-done in Foxborough - regardless of the Petersen deal, which is just the latest in a line of high-profile contracts doled out this offseason.

NFL contracts can rarely be taken at face value, as they almost always include things like roster bonuses and play time incentives - creative and easy ways that a tenured veteran can achieve the maximum value of the contract if his performance is on par with reasonable expectation - and Revis' contract option is no exception.

The two-year, $32 million contract is actually a one year deal with a team option for a second year that locks the team into an arrangement that would substantially punish the team's salary cap whether they activate his second year or not, and leaves them with little option but to work an extension before the end of the 2014 league year - which marks the beginning of the free agency period for 2015.

The way the contract is structured, Revis received a $10 million signing bonus - split evenly for cap purposes between 2014 and 2015 - with a base salary of $1.5 million and a $33, 330.00 roster bonus for each game that he is on the 46 man game day roster, for a total value of $12 million and for a cap hit of just $7 million for spreading the signing bonus across two seasons.

To pick up the option on Revis, the second half of the prorated signing bonus is added to a $12.5 million roster bonus and a $7.5 million base salary for a staggering cap hit of $25 million, which the Patriots could still absorb with the salary cap increasing by at least $10 million next season.  But if they allow him to leave in free agency, the team still takes an exorbitant $5 million dead money hit, plus they are out a talent that can't be replaced.

Needless to say, neither option bodes well for the Patriots - but thankfully, there are more than two ways to skin a cap.

The salary cap for 2015 is projected to be right around $143 million, and when rolling over the nearly seven million cap dollars left over from 2014, the Patriots are already at an estimated $17 million under the cap before taking into account where Revis will fit in, money-wise...

...and then you take into account the expiring contracts of fifteen players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, only six of whom the team is likely to retain, there is an additional $25 million off the books, setting the Patriots' picnic table at a cool $42 million under the cap.

Of course, this is all just conjecture, and the actual numbers will vary as the team attempts to extend players like Devin McCourty, Matt Slater and Stephen Gostkowski - plus either Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen - but the unique opportunity here, as mentioned earlier, is to pay it forward, instead of back loading contracts to fit under the cap, the Patriots have a chance to prepare for their big money purge at the end of next season and pay some of these guys straight up, as much as possible.

So, obviously, the best way for the team to handle Revis is to not let the contract status reach the point of either-or, and to be proactive in getting an extension done as soon after the season ends as possible - and the contracts signed just this offseason by several name corners gives us a general idea of what to expect from that sort of deal.

When the Arizona Cardinals locked up Patrick Petersen with a five-year, $70 million contract extension last week, it came on the heels of Richard Sherman signing a four-year, $56 million extension with the Seahawks, Joe Haden inking a five-year $67 million deal with Cleveland and Aqib Talib scoring a six-year, $57 million free agent contract with Denver...

...and while these numbers look imposing in face value and have effectively set the bar for contracts amongst the game's elite pass defenders, only Haden's comes close to being what the face value represents as far as guarantees, but a look at each individual contract gives us some idea of how the Patriots could easily retain Revis on an extension.

Haden's deal with the Browns locks the team into a multi-year package that paid him $16 million in signing bonuses and fully guarantees his 2014, 2015 and 2016 salaries and nearly half of his 2017 salary, plus annual $100,000 bonuses for workout and Pro Bowl selections, which guarantees him over $40 million over the life of the contract and makes trading or releasing him nearly impossible until the start of the 2017 league year.

That deal may lock the team into more guaranteed money than the Patriots would like to spend on any of their impending free agents, as it places more liability on the team into more than it does Haden, and the Patriots will part with a player before being handcuffed by salary demand.

Petersen's deal doesn't come close to that of Haden's, nor does Sherman's nor Talib's, as their salaries are guaranteed for most seasons only in the event of injury.  The majority of Sherman's deal is guaranteed at the whim of the team, essentially a series of one year deals that become guaranteed if he is still on the roster five days after the conclusion of the Super Bowl...

...which is pretty much the same as Talib's, except his guarantees take effect three days after the start of each league year - which draws a picture of how the Patriots might be able to work a deal with Revis.

First of all, the average yearly salary of right around $14 million per is pretty much set by the market - and a bargain to boot if Revis ends up being everything the team hopes he is, and is a bargaining chip that gives some leverage to the Patriots.  Secondly, no sane person believes that the fiscally aware Patriots have any intention of just exercising his option for the ridiculously high cap hit - which is leverage for Revis, particularly if he finds that Foxborough is not to his liking.

That said, the approach with Revis should be something to the effect of a three year deal worth $50 million, which speaks to his demand from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season to be the highest paid cornerback in the league, with 12 million of that tied to a signing bonus and first year salary of around $4 million...

...with the other two years' money becoming guaranteed as similarly-sized roster, workout and game day bonuses and annual salary if he is on the roster at the beginning of the new league year.  That way nothing is back loaded and his salary is pretty much taken care of with the annual increases in the salary cap - and it allows the Patriots to deal with their free agents using a clean slate with no ambiguity and, most important of all, no possibility of dead money against the cap.

Could they go even longer with the deal?  Well, considering that what is essentially a series of one-year deals en vouge at present, they certainly could lock him up for a long time, given that the new TV contracts come into play in the 2015 season, potentially adding more cap money to the coffers.

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